POLITICS
11/13/2011 12:58 EST | Updated 01/18/2012 11:22 EST

Quebec Language Inspectors Launching Campaign To Boost French On Signs

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MONTREAL - In a bid to protect the French language, Quebec's language inspectors have launched a campaign targeting the commercial signs of multinational chains and big box stores operating in the province.

The awareness campaign, scheduled to begin Monday at a cost of $500,000, will target large corporations with anglophone trademark names.

Louise Marchand, president of the Office Quebecois de la Langue Francaise, said English names are permitted but they must be accompanied by a descriptive term or slogan in French.

Marchand is concerned that, if left unchecked, English-named stores will undermine Quebec's status as a francophone society.

"Globalization has profoundly changed the economic reality of Quebec," Marchand said at a news conference Sunday. "The expansion of multinational companies and chain stores are an example of that."

Stores that meet the requirements include the Scores restaurant chain, which was allowed to keep its English brand name by including the descriptive "rotisserie" — the French term for grill.

Other names deemed acceptable are Les Cafes Second Cup and New Look, which added the word "lunetterie", the French term for an eyeglasses shop, to the front of its name.

Marchand pointed out that several other chain stores opted to translate their names into French, even though it's not required by law.

"That strategy has permitted them to integrate seamlessly into the Quebec landscape," she said.

Marchand said the Office is prepared to help companies meet the requirements and a program has been set up to assist smaller businesses.

She wouldn't say what the penalty would be if companies don't comply, explaining that the focus for the moment is to get them to willingly follow the rules.

"A fine does nothing to advance our cause," she said. "It's making changes that will advance our goal of protecting the French language."

The campaign includes advertisements on television and the Internet and will run intermittently until February 2012.

In recent years, the debate in Quebec over commercial signs has taken a back seat to other issues, such as education.

The Office has been around for more than three decades, mandated to uphold Quebec's Charter of the French Language, or Bill 101, after it was passed in 1977.

In the original Bill 101, public signs in Quebec were to be in French only, but the current version stipulates that French should be "markedly predominant'' on commercial signs.

Last weekend, more than 500 people gathered in Montreal to protest what they called the declining presence of the French language in the city's business.